Yangon Day 9 to 11: Shopping and Packing

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The last three days in Yangon were spent in a more lazy fashion, with much time afforded to sleeping, shopping and dining.

We were again at Bogyoke Market and this time, we stumbled upon a side alley where men and women were huddled in small groups either along the road or over small tables with snacks and tea. We soon realised that many of these were part of the gemstone trade. People were simply buying and selling gemstones on the street.

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We also visited a street that was presumably known as the place that gem dealers hawk their precious wares. In a makeshift stall located at the end of the street, R found some stones that he had been looking for and we spent a fair bit of time looking through the array of items on display.

Back at Bogyoke market, I joined Mel to look at Chin fabrics while R went to look at more gemstones. At Yoyamay, we bought pouches, cushion covers and a throw made of handwoven fabrics.

I had wanted to visit some furniture shops, but with R being unwell for a couple of days, we didn’t quite make it to any on this trip. On our last night though, we came across a “gift shop” which sold homewares and at a pretty affordable price too. It was really an accidental find as we were supposed to meet Mel for dinner at a restaurant next door and simply wandered into this shop out of curiosity.

It was more of a shop selling handcrafted goods than a “gift shop”. I bought some chopsticks (how Chinese am I?!), a rattan basket, and R bought a magnet that is now stuck on our refrigerator at home. I do like the products in this shop and may return on our next trip.

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One of the things we ate during those last few days was chicken biryani. It was way more oily than the version we get in Singapore but the smell and the taste were so good.

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Our last dinner in Yangon was at Sofaer & Co. Opened just few months ago, it’s a beautiful restaurant that serves fusion Burmese dishes. The interiors were so pretty.

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We couldn’t leave without having mohinga again so we decided to have it for breakfast on our last morning.

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Yangon Day 5 to 8: Adventures In and Around

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We are now back in Singapore and feeling slightly unsettled by an unpleasant incident that had happened with the Burmese customs. Aside from that, the trip was still a good one and I’m gonna jot down some highlights of days 5 to 8.

I accompanied R to the Professional Development Conference on Day 5. He was there to speak on his topic “The Teacher’s Toolbox”. It was eye-opening for me to be at a professional event and I learnt a few things observing and speaking with people.

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The next day, I took the train up to an area away from the city to visit a special school called Eden Centre. I had already scheduled a time with the staff some days prior. They brought me around to see the classrooms and the different children, teachers and staff who work there.

Eden Centre is privately run and supported by donations. As I walked around, I remember feeling very impressed with the work that was being done. The centre deals with global delay, autism, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, and takes in children from ages 0 to 18. There are physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and a training manager. There is a training room and even a hydrotherapy pool. I left the centre feeling heartened by what I saw and experienced.

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Across those few days, Mel also brought me around to some pretty cool places, like 50th Street Bar and Pansodan Art Gallery. We had ramen at a Japanese restaurant, bought fresh flowers from the night market for her house, and had Shan noodles at the almost-famous 999 Shan Noodle House.

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She took an afternoon off work to take me cycling on an island. Locating the jetty and getting on the right boat were enough of an adventure in themselves, so much that I was ready to go home by the time I landed on the island. We eventually spent about 2.5 hours on the island.

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This island, called Kanaung To, comprises just one main road and many little villages connected by small winding paths. A local woman loaned us the use of a bicycle for two hours and so we were able to cycle around and explore the land. The kids were very curious to see us, staring and waving as we passed.

The next three days were spent seeing more of the city and shopping at Bogyoke market. More in the next post!

Yangon Day 1 to 4: Energy Within the Chaos

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We have been here in Yangon, Myanmar for over a week now. This city is gritty, chaotic yet beautiful and bubbling with so much energy and enthusiasm at the same time.

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One week isn’t long, but neither is it too short to fully experience a city. Our first three nights were spent in a B&B in downtown Yangon. On our first day, we walked down Strand Road, made a turn and came across a large night market, full of hawkers selling food and makeshift stalls peddling all kinds of items.

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As we walked on, we found ourselves at Maha Bandula Park and not far off, was the Sule Pagoda. It stands as an island in the middle of a roundabout, splendid and shimmering.

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We met up with a Singaporean friend who lives in Yangon, who took us to dinner at Shan Yoe Yar, a popular restaurant serving Shan cuisine. We had Shan noodles and shared additional dishes. One egg dish, in particular, was absolutely delicious.

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The second and third day were spent gem shopping at Bogyoke Market and the Gem Museum respectively. R managed to meet his Burmese gem dealer friend and I suspect that he will be meeting her again before we leave.

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We also went to Junction City, the newest mall to open in Yangon, and Myanmar Plaza, one of the city’s largest malls. Stepping into these malls was like being transported back to Singapore — great if you need a respite from the chaos, not so great if you need a respite from Singapore.

We met up with Mel, another friend who lives in Yangon, and she introduced us to some local food places she frequents. One of these was Lucky Seven, where we got to try mohinga, milk noodles and prata. Yes, like Singapore, Myanmar has prata too.

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In the evening, she brought us to a local beer garden to have barbecue and drinks. By the the third night however, we succumbed to our Singaporean taste buds and had Aston’s for dinner.

We moved to a hotel on our fourth day, choosing it for its proximity to the city centre as R was going to have a number of meetings there. Much of the day was then spent catching up with work before we had hotpot dinner and retired to our room.

The next few days became some of the most interesting experiences I’ve had in Yangon. I attended a conference, visited a special school in the outskirts, and even went cycling on an island. More in the next post.

Mission

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R and I returned from a mission trip to Cambodia last week. It was very good to be back at a place I’ve thought about often. 

We went with Aunty Joyce, Steven, Ruth, Lay Eng, Adeline, Veron and Josephine. I’m thankful for the opportunity to work with these wonderful people.

Without fail, I’m also blessed by the people there. The simplicity of life is also one that strikes me.

Now that we’re back, it’s time to think about how we can contribute when we go there again.

The headline is apt.

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When universities in Japan announced a month ago that they would be abolishing the humanities and social sciences faculties, I was not sure I understood it. Eliminate the arts from education–say what?

According to this article from AsiaOne,

“Japanese universities are being forced to review their organisations from the ground up, due to the declining birthrate and severe international competition among universities.

Compared with the creation of new industries and technological innovations that stem from science and technology studies, it is difficult for humanities and social science studies to demonstrate tangible accomplishments.”

I’m sure there is more than meets the eye.

Two days ago, Bloomberg published an opinion piece by Noah Smith covering this bit of news.

The headline read: Japan Dumbs Down Its Universities.

I couldn’t agree more. The headline is apt.

Aside from commenting on economic productivity and policy making, the author also made this important point on political discussion.

There may or may not be political reasons for the change. Japan’s humanities departments, like those in the U.S., lean heavily to the political left, and Japan’s conservative administration is in the process of reorienting security policy. More darkly, the change might be part of a wider attempt by social conservatives — Abe’s main power bloc — to move the country in a more illiberal direction by stifling dissent and discussion.

Is this what it is really about? A fear of the intellectual and a struggle to remain in power?